It’s been a long time coming. A little over a month has felt, to many like a lifetime, but with several states lifting coronavirus quarantine restrictions in the coming months, restaurants are now anxiously planning to reopen their doors.

Doing so can be fraught with uncertainty, as business owners are left to wonder what the future of restaurant dining holds.

Whatever the future looks like, one thing is certain: It will be different. Prepare yourself and your staff for changes, and stay flexible as you observe how the dining habits of your customers may have changed. Likely, delivery and takeout food, a category that was growing exponentially before the shutdown, will continue to be a popular option. But many guests will be excited to return to their favorite restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops, and you will want to be ready to welcome them.

Make a Plan

Now is the time to think through a reopening process and put ideas on paper, looping in management as you make these important decisions. Create a spreadsheet or shared document with the steps you’ll take to reopen your doors, including a projected timeline of the next eight weeks, and refine as necessary until you have a plan that feels realistic. Determine times in advance when you will refer back to the plan, making sure you’re staying on target and adapting as necessary.

Bring Back Your Crew

Having furloughed or let go of many employees, most employers are probably anxious to re-hire their pre-coronavirus crews. Before reaching out to staff, think critically about how many FOH and BOH employees you will need to reopen, assuming that your numbers will be below what you’re used to. Start with a small crew of well-trained employees with open availability to cover your first few weeks, and then reevaluate your needs to determine if more staff are necessary as you move forward.

If you’ve been able to retain staff during this time to fill delivery and takeout orders, start by offering this staff more hours, but keep in mind, guests will likely continue to use delivery/takeout options in addition to dining in, so make sure to have the right amount of staff to cover both needs.

Get Up to Speed

It might be useful to give your returning staff a training refresher to remind them of your core values and procedures. For staff who have been furloughed these past few weeks, you will need to train them on your ordering system for takeout and delivery orders and any other changes to your menu. Consider moving all of your training materials online so that employees can review materials at home.

Additionally, there may be new regional health code regulations that apply to your business. First learn them yourself by looking online or reaching out to your local health inspector. Once you are well familiar with the guidelines, pass them on to management and staff, and have them sign off on having received the information. Consider quizzing staff on important items to make sure the information sticks.

Staffing is going to be an ongoing challenge during these uncertain times, so be transparent with your staff about decisions you’re making and how they will be affected.

Take It Easy

In order to gauge what your needs will be in the coming months, start with what you are confident your staff can manage. Practicing social distancing and leaving appropriate space between tables will mean that your dining room and bar will be less crowded, but this may be offset by takeout orders, so be careful not to overwhelm your staff during busy times.

It’s tempting to go for a cash grab as soon as you open your doors again, but it would be wise to test the waters first, opening limited hours with a pared down staff, to understand what the new reality will look like for your business.

Communicate With The Public

As you prepare to reopen, take the time to communicate with guests, letting them know about the changes they may see, such as a socially distanced dining room with limited seating, reduced hours, safety protocols for your staff, and expectations that you have for your guests to take the health and safety of your staff and other guests seriously. Consider adding messaging to your server script or to guest checks to get more ears and eyes on the necessary information.

Once you know when you will reopen your doors, prepare a quick note for press letting them know what’s going on so that they can help spread the word, and share the news in your online newsletter and social media. Consider running a promotion that encourages guests to return to the dining room, but don’t go overboard, as you don’t want to overwhelm whatever your new system may be.

It’s OK to Wait

Because this is such an uncertain time, there are no right answers for exactly how and when to reopen, and some experts warn that premature reopening could be even more problematic for restaurants, with the possibility of a rolling lockdown cycle (which means opening and closing multiple times) over the next year and a half. Though it is heartbreaking and frightening to keep dining rooms closed, in many cases, this may be the safest option, and it is ok to make decisions for the health and safety of yourself, your staff, and your guests.

For more information on restarting your restaurant, check out these resources.

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